ATLANTA — Coach Paul Johnson blames himself for Georgia Tech’s struggles with, of all things, the spread option offense.
Since Johnson’s first season in 2008, the Yellow Jackets have led the nation in rushing, and they’re 10th this year, but last week’s home loss to Virginia Tech exposed several uncustomary weak spots.
Johnson said he and his staff must do a better job of teaching individual responsibilities in the scheme and basic fundamentals of spread option success.
Georgia Tech managed only 10 points against Virginia Tech, and Johnson said the Yellow Jackets (3-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) can’t afford another poor performance when they visit No. 14 Miami (4-0, 0-0 ACC) on Saturday.
Johnson is insisting that players focus on their assignments better and he said the coaching staff must improve, too.
The Jackets were a mess against Virginia Tech with six false start penalties. Quarterback Vad Lee threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
Miami, like Virginia Tech, has 13 takeaways this season, and the Hurricanes have given up only three touchdowns in the 10 drives that reached their 20-yard line.
Johnson expects that Miami coach Al Golden to align his defense “in an odd front” for most of the game in an attempt to disguise a 3-4 front as a 4-3 and keep Georgia Tech’s offensive line guessing.
Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman leads a unit that’s quick enough to close in space quickly and keep the Jackets from breaking off long runs on the perimeter.
“It’s been a tough matchup for us,” Johnson said. “I felt like we should’ve won the game here last year, but we didn’t get it done. They’re always pretty talented. They’re usually very fast and athletic and they’re hard to hit big plays against. We haven’t had many big plays the last three games.”
Johnson hopes he sees a good sign with an improved tempo in practice this week. Last week’s meltdown has caused everyone – players and the coaching staff – to work with “a little more urgency” and avoid a fifth straight loss to Miami.
“Sometimes you talk about it and you say it, but when you’re winning, they ain’t listening,” Johnson said. “They’re not hearing you. Well, if they watch that on tape, they hear me. They see that we’ve got to do better, and we’ve got to coach better.”
Every day in practice, the Jackets spend 20 minutes on the option drill. Johnson believes everyone needs to pay closer attention to detail, particularly for an offensive line that starts three fifth-year seniors and for a group of receivers that sometimes doesn’t hold blocks long enough to create big gains on the ground.
“Head-scratching stuff,” Johnson said. “In every game, we’ve turned defenders. The other night, we get an option pitched toward our bench, which could’ve been a huge play.”
Lee attempted 24 passes, not exactly what Johnson had in mind when he designed a spread option running attack to pound opponents and take lots of time off the clock.
Even worse, on a night in which the running game stalled, Lee had just seven completions against a Virginia Tech blitz that pummeled a Yellow Jacket offense that wasn’t blocking crisply.
“Clearly we didn’t do a good job of explaining it to our kids because out of the seven times we did it, we blocked it wrong five,” Johnson said. “So that comes back to us. If they block it wrong once or they get run over, that’s them, but when you’re not blocking the right people, that comes back to me.”